17

Neither my wife nor I have English as our mother tongue, but we use English to communicate to each other, which sometimes causes confusion.

My wife often uses the expression "until now" to mean "so far" or "yet", meaning that the action is not yet finished.

I didn't receive any answer from the landlord until now.

To me "until now" means that for some time she didn't get answer but now (recently), she did.

So I'll usually reply something like:

Nice, so what did he say?

And she looks at me weirdly, as if I would have asked something silly and we both laugh.

My question is. Does "until now" always imply that the action you are talking is now finished, or can sometimes be used with the same meaning as yet?

6
  • I would say there’s some narrow room for exceptions where the state has not ended but is expectedly to end imminently. Like I could imagine someone in the off-season before Rodgers ever suited up for the Jets saying “until now, Rodgers has only played with one team.” He’s not playing with the Jets yet but is expected to.
    – Casey
    Sep 12, 2023 at 21:08
  • I suspect that the issue concerns "until" and not "until now" specifically. Consider: "Until today I've never eaten sushi." "Until the Paleogene era, all mammals were small." In each case, the implication is that the situation changed after the time mentioned. Sep 13, 2023 at 2:56
  • 3
    If it did mean "yet", the present perfect would be called for, not the simple past: "I haven't received any answer yet". Sep 13, 2023 at 4:18
  • 1
    Let's be very clear here: until now=until this moment in the present.
    – Lambie
    Sep 13, 2023 at 12:50
  • I have noticed this being used as your wife uses it by a number of non-native speakers, and always find it confusing. It is often possible to figure out what is meant by context, especially if you have previous experience with non-native English speech or writing, but is best not to use the phrase in this way.
    – Anomaly
    Sep 13, 2023 at 15:18

5 Answers 5

28

It is definitely a tricky expression for non-natives. The definition found in dictionaries can confuse them more:

UNTIL NOW
used in negative statement to describe a situation that has existed up to this point or up to the present time

  • So far he hasn't called
  • the sun isn't up yet (Freedict)

Wait, wait, what?

Barnaby Harward, an editor and language trainer at an EU agency, explains the confusion very clearly:

The phrase “until now” is often used incorrectly. This can result in a sentence having the opposite meaning to the one intended.

Consider the following sentence:

  • Until now, the above documents and information have not been provided by the Banks.

What does the writer mean? Have the Banks provided the documents and information or not? A native English speaker would be likely to say yes. But the writer intended to say that they have not.

Retired teacher Paul Fanning sheds some light on the matter by comparing until now with up to now:

The difference is that until now means the period stops now, while up to now means it may continue. Consider:

  • Everything has been going well until now.

This means everything is no longer going well. With up to now, by contrast, the possibility of everything going well into the future would exist.

Inexperienced English speakers very commonly use "until now" to express the meaning of "up to now". I know of no other expression meaning until now, but alternatives to up to now include to date, to this day (for historical events), ever since and so far. Note, though, that all expressions meaning “up to now” are emphatic – the very use of the present perfect verb tense (with has) is enough to convey the same meaning.

Barnaby Harward concludes his explanation saying that:

In English the phrase “until now” is used to refer to a change of circumstances where the change happens now.

  • Until now I have never eaten sushi.

This means that it is the first time the speaker has eaten sushi. Until the present moment the speaker never ate sushi. NOW the speaker is eating sushi.

So there you go, these posts provide your wife with a variety of alternatives for the meaning she intends to convey.

PS: There's another post on Grammarphobia, Confused, until now, which addresses this same issue.

4
  • 1
    So, "until now" is almost the opposite of "so far" Sep 13, 2023 at 16:12
  • 4
    Shouldn't it be "Until now I had never eaten sushi"?
    – Stef
    Sep 14, 2023 at 15:46
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    @Stef no, why? If now is the point of reference , then it is more natural to use the perfect present. The only context where had would be more natural that I can think of would be reporting the past: 'He went to a sushi place, and was positively surprised. He had never eaten sushi until that moment'. The reason had works here is that the point of reference is a past moment
    – crizzis
    Sep 14, 2023 at 21:18
  • @crizzis "had" would be more natural, as it implies completeness. Both formulations convey the intent, but "have" implies you are about to end that streak, and "had" conveys that you just ended it.
    – fectin
    Sep 15, 2023 at 17:37
15

Until now implies, not so much that the action is finished, but that it has happened at last.

I didn't receive an answer until now/today means that the answer arrived just now/earlier today.

Your wife could say I haven't received an answer yet or so far.

8
  • Or just I haven't received an answer.
    – Robusto
    Sep 12, 2023 at 14:57
  • 1
    Or that a change has not yet happened (and may or may not happen): I've lived all my life in England until now. Sep 12, 2023 at 16:38
  • @EdwinAshworth - True, but I think the negative use (hasn't happened until now) always implies that it has happened now? Sep 12, 2023 at 16:46
  • Jurgen Klopp is quoted as saying ' ... it hasn't happened until now and I don't expect it to happen ...', but English isn't his first language (though he's pretty fluent). But yes, I'd use 'yet' here. Sep 12, 2023 at 18:48
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    @Erwin doesn't your comment contradict the answer? I've lived all my life in England until now means that you no longer live in England. Or are you saying that you can use this sentence to say that you still live in England?
    – Elerium115
    Sep 12, 2023 at 19:22
1

For me, it means up to this point there has been no known change of circumstances or behaviour. One cannot say otherwise unless more context/information is provided.

However, if you start with a negative then use "until now", e.g.

I haven't travelled until now

This means that the exact opposite has just occurred reiterating a change in comparison to the past.

0

"I didn't receive any answer from the landlord until now."

Until now would generally be used with a perfect tense, which in English emphasises the importance of the result for the present.

Thus, if the present situation is the focus (either as in: still waiting, or as in: suddenly a reply came after all this time) we would say

I still haven't received an answer.

(still does the work of telling us that the unfortunate situation endures till the present moment) or

I hadn't received anything (for the longest time) till just now.

I didn't receive an answer describes, at least to my ear, a waiting period that ended in the past. If no answer was ever given, the waiting period can be treated as point-like ("I asked and got no reply." Implication: I moved on to some other stratagem) or extended in time ("I asked and then waited in vain for weeks.")

Now this use of to do as auxiliary where I would prefer to have seems to be more and more common, so I cannot really claim that it is wrong (even if I think it sounds like a sloppy americanism) and I would certainly not take a non-native speaker to task for it! With that proviso, you are right and your wife is wrong.

There is an idiomatic use of till/until + imperfect past that we hear in the song Alone by Heart:

Till now, I always got by on my own. I never really cared until I met you...

The sense here is ironic or bitter-sweet: why should today be any different?

0

The expression until [present|future|past time] or until [finite-clause]

e.g.

until this very minute
until now
until today
until next Tuesday
until yesterday
until the second half of the 8th century
until a month ago
until something happens|happened

when used with a negative statement, refers to the [time] it does happen, has happened, will happen, may happen, should have happened, did happen, etc.

I never saw that letter until this very minute.

I had never had an avocado until now.

My dentist appointment is not until next Tuesday.

I had not heard back from the landlord until yesterday.

We find no examples of that word until the 15th century.

With a finite clause:

The alarm should not sound until the temperature reaches 225°C.

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